Sara Watson's Reviews > Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle
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Aug 10, 2011

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Read from August 10 to 12, 2011 — I own a copy

I agree with much of what's been said about this book feeling like two separate ones. I held out, waiting for the conclusion to do the heavy lifting to tie the robots and the communications technology sections together, but the hand waving and smoothing over did little more than to further apologize for the disjuncture as admitted in the introduction.

I like that Turkle has the confidence to take a critical turn here. Though some have described the shift to be it to be pessimistic, in opposition to her earlier optimism, I read it as grounded, thoughtful, and critical, and that the call to action is for society/users to give the same critical thought to the ways our technologies are influencing our behaviors and mediating our relationships. I would argue we have always needed to ask ourselves these questions, for any technology in any age, but Turkle suggests that our acceptance of the roles robots can and might play in our lives is a game changer and worthy of extra-special attention. That's fine - I appreciated the opportunity to spend a little time thinking about Tamagotchis and Furbies - I was too young when those came into vogue to think more critically beyond asking my young self "Why would anyone want to spend time caring for a virtual pet that you can't even turn off?"

Psychology methodologies seem to me a worthy approach to understanding robots, particularly in exploring definitions of humanity in contrast to non-human beings, and reading this book also got me thinking a lot about methodology (in part because I'm embarking on proposal brainstorming myself). But Turkle's methodological grounding in clinical psychology was reiterated through the frequent references to the idea that asking people to talk about their relationship to technologies are Rorschach tests for getting them to tease out how they are feeling about themselves, their situations. Fair, but the ethnographic lens felt more like Turkle was focused on individuals' problems, rather than following through with the bigger problems for humanity. The whole "learning what you think by hearing what you say to others" idea felt like a self help book for the modern age, setting up a framework for thinking about our relationships to technology, rather than providing any guidance. In true psychologist form, Turkle is asking the right questions, but she was asking more than she was answering.

Also, the epilogue felt like a last-ditch effort to respond to Kevin Kelly's work on "What Technology Wants" - the counter balance to Turkle's questions about what we want from technology. An appropriate and worthy task, but it felt like an afterthought and a scramble.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Panelo Felt the same way about this book! Was not expecting to read about robots, Tamagotchis and Furbies for soooooo loooong at the critical start of the book.

I was looking for a book on how social media feeds social disconnection, but Turkle's book wasn't at all the direction I was thinking, despite its title.

To make up for it, I read two other books that were more in line with what I was looking for:

1) The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains - Nicholas Carr
2) Super Sad True Love Story - Gary Shteyngart :)

Sara Watson I really enjoyed Super Sad True Love Story, and read the article version of The Shallows (Is Google Making Us Stupid, The Atlantic) - both more deeply involved with these questions, for sure. Word.

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